PRODUCT REVIEW

Speech Recognition a Boon for Two-Finger Typists

Some bloggers amaze me — not by what they say, but by how much they say. It seems to me sometimes that a lot of these guys must be sitting in front of their keyboard 18 hours a day filling screen after screen with their prose.

Maybe the moles of electrons they produce every day is better described as typing than writing, but their dedication can’t be denied. It makes some of us wonder if the output of many more bloggers would be increased if they weren’t constrained by a Qwerty keyboard. It’s a thought we apparently share with Nuance Communications of Merelbeke, Belgium.

While Nuance may not be recognized by many keyboard jockeys, one of its cornerstone products might ring a bell. It’s a speech recognition program called Dragon Naturally Speaking (DNS).

Irresistable Offer

Speech recognition programs turn what you say into text on a computer screen. Some, as DNS does, will let you issue voice commands to your computer too.

For typing-challenged bloggers, DNS can be a program made in paradise. That perception hasn’t been lost on Nuance. It recently announced a program that’s bound to create some goodwill in the blogosphere for the company. Its “Give A Voice to Bloggers” campaign is designed to furnish bloggers who make “regular entries on varied topics” a copy of DNS to improve their output.

The latest edition of DNS is version 9.1. The last incarnation of the program that I reviewed was version 7. At that point, the product seemed to hit its peak. Its accuracy seemed only marginally improved, and program bloat had begun to make the application a drag on system resources.

I had no intention of reviewing version 9, but a third-party reseller, Smith Micro, ran a promotion that I couldn’t ignore: a 50 percent discount on the product, which usually sells for US$99. Boy, was I glad I took advantage of that offer.

Improved Performance

Version 9 has a few new features, but what impressed me about the product is the improved performance of the old features.

Prior to installing version 9, I was running version 7 on my computer. Even on my high performance system — it has an AMD dual core X2 chip — performance was sluggish. The latency between the time I said something and the time it appeared on the screen was often very annoying.

With version 9, responsiveness was quick as a whippet chasing a rabbit. Also, for the first time in memory, the program lived up to its 99 percent accuracy boast.

Better yet, the application obeyed voice commands flawlessly.

No Training Needed

In the past, you had to train the software to recognize your speech. That involved reading canned text passages provided by the program. Training is included in the new version of the application, but you can skip it. I did, and recognition was still excellent.

However, I was using a headset microphone with the software. With array microphones, or standalone microphones, and Bluetooth mics, Nuance recommends using the training session feature.

A new feature of the program is the inclusion of “speech models.” These models improve performance when using array and Bluetooth microphones.

Barrier Buster

Like its predecessors, this version of DNS is optimized to work with Microsoft Office products, although it now supports Mozilla’s Thunderbird e-mail program and its Firefox Web browser.

Nuance says that the application works with most Windows programs. It does. It just doesn’t always work consistently. Commands to correct text, for example, falter. The new version of the program has added a couple of features that can cure some of the frustration engendered by this behavior.

There is something called the “Select-and-Say” indicator. If the indicator is green, you know that all features function in the application or application window that you’re working in. If it’s not green, then some of the features may not function properly.

In those cases, you can use something called the “Dictation Box.” The box allows you to dictate and edit text in nonstandard windows. When you close the box, the text is automatically transferred into the application window where you were working when you opened the box.

Each version of Dragon Naturally Speaking is accompanied by a certain degree of hype. This time, though, the hype can be believed. If typing is an obstacle to your productivity, DNS 9 will be a barrier buster for you.


John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at reviews@jpmello.com.


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